The problem of stress among employees is one that is too often overlooked. Workers are expected to just get on with it and adapt to the pressures of the job. However, if these pressures are unnecessarily harsh there are simple steps that can be taken to reduce them, with beneficial effects in terms of productivity, profit and morale.
Symptoms of stress
While signs of stress can include erratic behaviour and an inability to concentrate, working late, refusing to take breaks and being unable to switch off can equally be stress symptoms. And although in this latter case it may seem as though the employee is working harder, the quality of their work and their overall productivity is actually suffering. They may also seem tired, withdrawn or moody, take increasing time off sick, and may actually develop genuine psychosomatic illnesses. Headaches, nausea, insomnia and physical tics are all common stress symptoms.
What are the causes of stress?
The stress may most obviously be caused by unreasonable pressure to perform and meet expectations at work. Dramatic changes in the workplace or the company structure can also leave employees unsettled or worried about losing their jobs. Poor relationships with their co-workers can be stressful, and stress can be contagious: if one employee is unhappy and not pulling their weight, then this can have a negative impact on the whole team.
The causes may also lie in an employee’s personal life. Money worries, relationship problems or an illness in the family can all spill over into the workplace.
Although a high-pressure environment is sometimes seen as a good thing, a stressed employee is often unable to do their job properly. They will make bad decisions and can lower overall morale. Absenteeism and illness can follow, or will even mean employees quitting their jobs, which costs a company time and money in recruitment and training.
Extreme stress may lead to employees attempting to “self-medicate” by using drink or drugs to block out the problem. This inevitably makes the situation worse in the end. Signs that an employee is drinking too much or using illegal or prescription drugs may not be obvious, but will still have a serious negative impact on their work and their quality of life. Workplace drug testing can help them to confront the problem and save your business time and money, and an oral fluid lab test is a quick, safe and non-obtrusive way to address the situation.
What you can do
Good management can help alleviate stress. Let your employees know there is always someone they can talk to in confidence. If one-to-one meetings aren’t sufficient, consider offering professional counselling sessions. Encourage good time management, proper lunch and rest breaks, and make clear that there is zero tolerance of bullying or harassment. It may be necessary to reduce an employee’s workload, give them flexible hours or even paid time off to resolve their issues.
Stress in the workplace can be toxic for your business. Spending time and money to resolve the issues will usually be cost effective. Managing employee stress levels should be a key part of every manager’s job description.